May 23, 2021

Regional hospitals “in crisis”: 92-year-old dies following telehealth consultation

Regional hospitals in crisis

Senior staff from the Western NSW Local Health District gave evidence in Dubbo at the latest hearing for the NSW government’s inquiry into remote, rural and regional healthcare.

The inquiry heard a 92-year-old man died in acute pain at a regional hospital because he was being treated via telehealth, according to a report by the ABC.

Virtual doctors an “extremely poor system”

Retiree Vicki Kearines told the hearing her father had blood cancer and was too unwell to administer morphine himself, but the telehealth doctor treating her father insisted he administer his own morphine, according to the ABC.

Kearines wrote in a submission to the inquiry that the virtual doctor system used in regional hospitals was “extremely poor … for the elderly in particular”.

“I think they’re appalling,” she said.

“My sister is an ex-vet nurse and she made the comment that if that was her dog she would be having police charges laid against her for letting it be in as much pain as our father was in,” Kearines told the hearing.

Kearines told the inquiry the lack of proper health services available in her community made her feel ‘like we don‘t matter out here” and they are “second-class citizens”.

Hospital does not have enough staff

The inquiry also heard the $73 million Parkes hospital in NSW, which only opened in 2014, cannot function to capacity because it does not have enough staff, the ABC has reported.

Local Mayor Ken Keith OAM told the hearing that several hospital departments are empty because there are not enough medical staff to operate them. 

The government has invested in obstetric services at the hospital, but no babies have been delivered in Parkes since 2019. Expectant mothers are instead sent to Forbes or Orange when it comes time to give birth.

The inquiry heard some patients have to wait up to six weeks for an appointment with their GP.

Indigenous concerns ignored

Representatives from Indigenous health services and community organisations said patients’ cultural needs are also being ignored, preventing them from seeking treatment.

“I want to say how sorry I am”

Labor MP Walt Secord said the evidence was “devastating” and “heartbreaking”.

Chief executive of the LHD, Scott McLachlan, apologised to patients and families, the ABC has reported.

“To those that have experienced the care that is not what they needed or wished, I want to say again how sorry I am,” he said.

Hospitals run out of supplies

The previous day, hearings in Wellington heard five hospitals in western New South Wales frequently run out of antibiotics and medical supplies.

According to the ABC, doctor Aniello Iannuzzi told the inquiry the four hospitals in the Warrumbungle Shire had run out of antibiotics and were working with substandard resources.

“There has been a deliberate downgrading of instruments,” he said.

Canowindra nurse Samantha Gregory-Jones told the inquiry her hospital ran out of antibiotics regularly and they often had to ask registered nurses at another hospital and deliver them.

Dubbo Region Mayor Ben Shields told the inquiry there was only one doctor to look after the entire population in the Wellington region, according to the ABC report.

He told the inquiry of a woman with appendicitis who took herself to hospital but had to drive herself to another hospital after waiting all night to see a doctor. 

Poor management blamed

Dr Iannuzzi said poor management is causing the problems in western NSW medical services.

Mayors from rural NSW towns are expected to ask the state government to appoint a minister for regional health. 

After concerns were raised, the hearings were only accessible to those who attended in person. From last week the hearings were broadcast on the NSW Parliament website.

Transcripts of the hearings can be found on the NSW Parliament’s website.

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